Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999): Worst For Chronologically First

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Today is May 23rd! Here’s hoping you are feeling the force today and every day! Today we are going to begin an all-new miniseries, 7 Days of Star Wars. We are going to talk about a “Star Wars” film for each day that we progress through this week. I have reviewed most of the core “Star Wars” movies such as a couple of the sequel trilogy installments and Disney spinoffs like “Rogue One.” However, this is a project I have waited to do for years. Partially because of time constraints, trying to find the right days to pull something like this off, and the typical human issue we all have, hesitancy towards actually sitting down and doing something. Some say they are gonna write a novel, but never actually get to the point of starting to write a novel. I am not saying that me doing “Star Wars” reviews is like me writing a novel, but I have been pondering over this idea since maybe 2016, perhaps 2017. I had a friend or two request me to talk about these films. Although I don’t usually take requests and I wondered how I wanted to go about doing something like this. That is why during my 5th anniversary of Scene Before, we are going big. 7 “Star Wars” movies. One new review per day. All for your entertainment. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the first entry of… 7 DAYS OF STAR WARS!

“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” is directed by George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) and stars Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Michael Collins), Ewan McGregor (Emma, Trainspotting), Jake Lloyd (Jingle All the Way, The Pretender), Natalie Portman (Leon: The Professional, Mars Attacks!), Ian McDiarmid (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dragonslayer), Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker (Time Bandits, Flash Gordon), Pernilla August (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Serpent’s Way), and Frank Oz (The Dark Crystal, The Muppet Movie). This film tells the journey of two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi, as they escape a hostile blockade and find themselves with a young boy on Tatooine. This young boy, Anakin Skywalker, is prophesized to bring balance to the force. Although the Sith, arch rivals of the Jedi, are desperate for a return to glory.

Wow. Can’t believe it took me this long, but here we go. “Star Wars Episode I” is an interesting film from the surface because as a kid, it is the one that I watched the least. I say that as someone who grew up with the prequels and not the originals. And it is not because I did not like the movie. I had little to no concept of what a “good” or “bad” movie was as a kid. I borrowed my cousin’s DVD at one point, I MAY have rented it from Blockbuster, and I am pretty sure that is the most exposure I had of the film as a kid except for when it aired on Spike. I owned all the live-action “Star Wars” movies as a kid, except for “The Phantom Menace.” I even owned “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on DVD as a kid and I still never owned “The Phantom Menace.” I did not own “The Phantom Menace” until buying a used Blu-ray copy of The Prequel Trilogy at the Northshore Mall Newbury Comics.

I will be completely real with you about the “Star Wars” prequels. There are some genuinely good things about these movies. They are marvelous to look at. Then again, which “Star Wars” movie is not? While they may not be the goto standard these days in regards to visuals, they have been a major influence to CGI and digital effects. And even though they kind of harm the lore that was previously established in the original trilogy, they also introduce some new ideas to the universe that we have not been exposed to yet. We’ll definitely be talking about Darth Plagueis the Wise when we get to Episode III, but unfortunately we are talking about Episode I which I would consider to not just be the worst prequel, but perhaps arguably the worst “Star Wars” movie ever.

I was not joking in the subtitle when I said that the worst comes chronologically first. Because OH MY GOD, there is so much that is wrong with this movie. I don’t even know where to start. The movie admittedly starts off fine because one of the things that separates this trilogy from the original is the fact that this takes place in a time where Jedi were more likely to be found. They were in their prime, they were badass, and the opening scene of the film were we see Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan slice heads off battle droids solidifies that. “The Phantom Menace” is like the Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse. Sure, having it is great, but if you think too much, it may ruin the experience of taking it all in.

The sad thing about “The Phantom Menace” is that when it comes to the characters, I can almost barely remember a single thing about them. Qui-Gon Jinn wields a green lightsaber, he does some cool stuff, he’s played by Liam Neeson, and that is about it. There is not much depth to his character that would really make me remember him or care about him. Say what you want about the recent sequel trilogy, one thing they did really well in those movies is build some semblance of backstory for Rey and Finn. The backstories for them may have been somewhat bumpy, but they’re backstories nevertheless. Here, George Lucas pretty much goes as far to say, “Well, they’re Jedi Knights. Watch them.” That ain’t enough, Georgie! Give me some backstory! I don’t care about Qui-Gon! I don’t care about Darth Maul! They do cool things in the movie, but it does not make them great characters. It just makes them eye candy! Heck! Jar Jar Binks, the literal joke of the film, has more of a backstory than Qui-Gon! At least a backstory that I can cite for someone who happens to be curious. Jar Jar is clumsy and is hated by his peers. Done.

Oh yeah, about Jar Jar being the joke of the film. All respect to Ahmed Best, I have no intention of harming him as a professional, but wow his character SUCKS. And I must admit, it takes the “Star Wars” name, which arguably is for kids and young adults, and instead makes it for toddlers. Jar Jar Binks is what happens when you let a toddler write a “Star Wars” movie with their dad. The father has all the civilized characters. Jedi, droids, hutts, royalty, and then you have the toddler come in with a character they thought of, and because the father has to be a good sport and avoid disappointing his son, he lets the newly established character into the script. It ultimately ruins the film and divides the tone from the point this character begins to appear. It’s like if you put Peter Griffin in the “Lord of the Rings” universe. Can you imagine how the secret meeting would go?

Aragorn: [to Frodo] If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword…

Legolas: And you have my bow.

Gimli: And *my* axe.

Peter: You know what really grinds my gears? Eagles! They’re stupid! They stop flying before you actually get to your destination! And they made the Patriots lose a Super Bowl!

Frodo: For Pete’s sake…

Gimli: Shut up, you dwarf-brained imbecile.

Peter: Oh, sorry sorry. You have my Road House kicks.

Despite living in a world where I happen to be extremely tolerant of everyone regardless of who they are, Jar Jar Binks represents that barrier of tolerance I have for some people, and by that I mean, he crosses it significantly. Binks cements himself as the most annoying nuisance to ever exist in the “Star Wars” universe. There are some characters that have failures or downfalls in the “Star Wars” universe, or in many other stories by the way, who I continue to root for because I want to see them succeed after their recent blunder. Jar Jar Binks, the half-assed comic relief of this “film” is not one of them because he makes one mistake too many. They say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Well they also say you cannot teach Jar Jar Binks any tricks whatsoever. Old or new. Everything he does represents embarrassment or failure. I do not want to go into much detail, but this goes into the lack of dimension this character happens to have. I think Qui-Gon Jinn did a really good job at putting Jar Jar in his place as best he could.

Qui-Gon Jinn: The ability to speak does not make you intelligent. Now get out of here.

In fact, speaking of Qui-Gon, I want to go back to something I said earlier on. He’s a Jedi Knight, and we have gotten a sense of this throughout the entire film. Although we see throughout the film, Obi-Wan is considered to be Qui-Gon’s Padawan. Granted, he is rather skilled, but nevertheless. Here’s the problem, and it is a spoiler, so I do apologize in advance. At the end of the film, Obi-Wan is promoted from his role as a Padawan to a Jedi Knight.

Why is that a problem? Let’s look at the opening crawl of the movie.

“While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict….”

Wait! Obi-Wan was a Jedi Knight this whole time? I think we have an imposter! Space security! Put this liar in jail!

This movie cannot even follow its own rules. I have tremendous respect for George Lucas as a filmmaker. He created one of the most iconic stories in not just film history, but the history of storytelling in general. I imagine he had a backstory planned for a number of elements in the franchise for years. But I feel like when it comes to bringing such a backstory to life, he could not take what was on paper and turn it into magic. And speaking of magic… That is LITERALLY gone in this movie and instead replaced with science.

F*cking. Science.

Now, I love science. Dinosaurs are awesome. Computers are amazing. Space is spectacular. But not all science is created equal. Some people consider “Star Wars” to be science fiction. And I would not say those people are wrong, but I’d also argue given how magical elements inserted into the franchise like the force and the fact that this film supposedly happened “a long time ago,” it is technically science fantasy. “The Phantom Menace” turns fantasy into a night terror with a simple question.

Anakin: “What are midichlorians?”

No seriously. WHAT THE EVER-LIVING CRAP ARE MIDICHLORIANS?! Well, according to Qui-Gon Jinn…

“Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life form that resides within all living cells.”

So you mean to tell me… That one can become a Jedi from being born with something? I actually hate this. Like, literally hate this. Hate is a strong word. But I think that is the best word I could possibly use here. In the 1977 “Star Wars,” seeing Luke Skywalker train to become a Jedi did not come off as if a gifted individual, and only a gifted individual, could use the force. At the time, he was just an ordinary boy with ordinary problems. He chose the path of the force not because he was special, but because he wanted to fulfill a destiny and live a life. Sure, Anakin had his problems too. He was a slave after all, but this movie goes to show how far the franchise has fallen. It has gone from choice and magic to prophecy and science. Yes, Anakin chooses to go on to become a Jedi, but again, I had less of a reason to root for him. While Luke had his grievances with being on Tatooine, he was still a somewhat likable character that came off as relatable. He was a dreamer. Anakin is just an annoying brat, and unfortunately, Jake Lloyd failed to sell me on the role. I don’t even know if I can blame Lloyd however, because for one thing, Lloyd was a child when filming “The Phantom Menace,” and at his age, he likely had less experience than Mark Hamill did when he started playing Luke. Hamill was in his twenties whereas Lloyd was not even a teenager when this film was made. But you know, it’s “Star Wars!” One of the most iconic names in film of all time! And you also have George Lucas! One of the most visionary creators of all time! At least “The Phantom Menace” had some good writing. Right?

Not really.

Queen Amidala : You’re a slave?

Anakin : I’m a person and my name is Anakin.

WOW! Thank you! For a second I was really confused and thought you were an armadillo! Thank you *so much* for clearing that up for me! Anakin, you’re the best!

Anakin, as a character, was just never set up well. Sure, there are increments of his backstory that bring some intrigue to the table, but the execution of the character feels sloppy at times, especially at the end of the film, part of which feels like was written by the same toddlerish mind who came up with Jar Jar Binks! There are some similarities between “The Phantom Menace” and the original “Star Wars.” Both involve Skywalkers. Both have R2-D2 and C-3PO. Both have climactic sequences involving spaceflight. Now about that last thing. In the original “Star Wars,” that last sequence felt planned and as if everything associated with it had a place and purpose. The climactic spaceflight sequence in “The Phantom Menace,” where Anakin goes into space in a ship on autopilot and flies to the control ship, feels like everything in it happens by accident or coincidence. Nothing feels like it matters, even though it leads to something big towards the end of the film. This is practically the Murphy’s Law of “Star Wars!” Nothing matters! Anything that can happen will happen! Let’s try spinning! That’s a good trick! Let’s try pod racing! That’s a GREAT trick! Maybe this would work as a Disney ride, but I can say that it does not work as a sequence in a film.

I will admit though, the pod race sequence was pretty fun. It might even be the best part of the movie. Well, except for one. We’ll get to it momentarily.

But about the pod-racing. This was one of the best set up sequences in the entire film. For starters, we are introduced to it when first seeing Anakin, and we get to know that in a way, it is important to him. His friends see his pod and doubt him. Qui-Gon makes a bet against Watto for the boy and proposes to put his hyperdrive part at risk. And we are warned of some of the dangers that lie ahead in a race like this. In a way, these dangers were met. When the race is on, it is on. We see pods flying, crashing, and there’s a good mix of brains and skill that goes into maintaining the pod, both on and off the track. I would love to see a “Star Wars” movie or series specifically dedicated to pod-racing. I know we have a video game, but I would love to see more of this on screen if possible. Then again, I love the concept of racing in general, so I may be a little biased. Basically, the best way I could describe the pod race in “The Phantom Menace” is if “Star Wars” had a baby with “Death Race.” It is fun, fast-paced, and occasionally off the rails.

Now about that best part… I mentioned in the beginning of the review that this movie did a really good job at solidifying the Jedi as people you do not want to mess with. At the end of the movie, when you have Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon going up against Darth Maul, the movie also does an equally impressive job at making the Sith a worthy opponent. Between his dual-blade lightsaber and his tendency to keep up the pace while dealing with more than one opponent, Maul is a boss in this film. Unfortunately though, the character, similar to Qui-Gon, has very little depth to him other than existing on the dark side and being sent in to capture Amidala while also finishing off the Jedi. This film does such a terrible job at establishing the threat despite having them look cool. Darth Maul has a double lightsaber, but not much else.

In “A New Hope,” we had Grand Moff Tarkin of all people. Grand Moff Tarkin was not much more than a guy who wore a uniform, but he had a sense of intimidation. He had a commanding presence, the entire room could bow down to him at any moment. Even Darth Vader would listen to his demands. Remember that scene where everyone is in the board room talking about the Death Star being the ultimate power in the universe? Someone mocks Vader for following the force, to which he chokes the naysayer and utters, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Tarkin then says, “Vader, release him!” He gives in. They say actions speak louder than words. But when I remember the double lightsaber-wielding badass as LESS of a threat than the guy who walks around saying things like “You may fire when ready,” that says something about these two films. Maybe it is not the best comparison, because Tarkin did take control of a planet-killing machine whereas Darth Maul does a bunch of Sith tricks. But again, it goes to show that when it comes to “The Phantom Menace,” the villains just do not strike any fear. They do not make me feel afraid or like I’m going to see them in my nightmares. When it comes to the kickstarters of their respective trilogies, “The Phantom Menace” is eye candy, but “Star Wars” is candy you can eat.

But I’d argue that BOTH films are ear candy, partially because of the musical mastermind known as John Williams. When I saw the last few “Star Wars” movies for the first time at the theater, I would have a playlist set up to blast in the car or on the bus with my headphones on. When doing so, I would make it a priority to put Episode I’s “Duel of the Fates,” arguably in my top 3 or 5 “Star Wars” tracks ever, which SAYS something about the music in this franchise, on the list.

To call this track bonkers and exciting would be an understatement. If “The Phantom Menace” did one thing right, it is getting John Williams to add his musical touch to another portion of the “Star Wars” universe. Williams is just a small fraction of what made those original films so memorable from his opening crawl music that may be the most iconic intro music ever made, to his theme for Princess Leia, to the Imperial March. Again, if these films did something right, it is getting one of the best film composers to ever exist to return and unleash more of his creative juices. And if this film reveals anything, he did not run out of steam after “Return of the Jedi.” If anything, he dialed up his creative meter to an 11. You’ll get this idea as we go along, but even though I have an easily obtainable idea of what my favorite “Star Wars” film is, not to mention what my least favorite “Star Wars” film is, I have a ton of trouble deciding which score, at least in the Skywalker Saga, is my favorite, because Williams smashes it with each go. That is part of why I love the final lightsaber duel so much with the two Jedi against Darth Maul in addition to all the crazy choreography that comes with it. This music is a perfect encapsulation of the future hanging in the balance for almost any scenario imaginable. It can take even an event as boring as watching paint dry and make it exciting. This is the power of John Williams. This is why he has built such an amazing library of “Star Wars” music. The maestro just doesn’t shy away from giving it his all.

I just wish this movie were as good as the music.

“The Phantom Menace” kind of reminds me of “Justice League.” The 2017 version, not the Snyder Cut. Because in that film, the tone was all over the place. One moment it is as light as a feather. The next moment it is moody. It really doesn’t have an identity. In “The Phantom Menace,” we go from a space adventure with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to a live-action cartoon with Jar Jar to a political debate with Senator Palpatine and all the others that make this movie significantly dull at times (OH MY LORD THE POLITICS ARE A SNOOZE). The odd thing is, even though you could argue that “Star Wars” from 1977 had a target audience of 12 year olds, it was so enjoyable that anyone could watch it, pick up the message from the movie, and embrace it. “The Phantom Menace” almost doesn’t even have a singular tone that it could be defined by, therefore it almost cannot dedicate itself to a single audience. I just look back at this film and ask… Who is this for? It’s got explosions and sword fights! So maybe it’s for younger kids and teenagers! But it’s got space politics! So is it for adults, actually? But then it has Jar Jar Binks and him repeatedly saying “Meesa” to the point where it splits my head open so I wondered if the film was for infants. “The Phantom Menace” goes in a lot of directions at once, but it’s like computer RAM. If you put in too much information, it can get overwhelming. Georgie! Close some tabs, will ya please?

In the end, “The Phantom Menace” is just a film that evokes the phrase “style over substance.” We start off with Jedi being badasses and end with said Jedi fighting a double blade lightsaber guy. Yes, this movie has a story. It has a point A. It has a point B. Unfortunately, it comes with lore expansions that infuriate me the more I think about them. Midichlorians suck. End of story. The best comparison I can give about this movie is that I can imagine it as if it were a chicken nugget. “Star Wars: A New Hope” is like a good old chicken nugget that I get every now and then, I put it in my mouth, and it tastes delicious. I keep coming back for more. “The Phantom Menace” on the other hand, also represents that chicken nugget. But instead of enjoying its god-like taste, I just found out the revolting secret recipe. The force tastes savory, but seeing how it is conceived is best left to the imagination. “The Phantom Menace” adds one or two good things to the “Star Wars” franchise. But the negatives unfortunately outweigh the positives significantly. This film tarnishes the lore in the “Star Wars” universe that has been established in the original trilogy, adds new lore that is uninteresting, and focuses less on characterization and more on looking cool. And that says something because I honestly think there are quite a few digital effects in this film that aged rather poorly to this day. Will say though, if it means anything, Liam Neeson did his best with the material given to him, and Ewan McGregor did an alright job as Obi-Wan. Although he personally gets better in the next two films. Also, one last thing, Coruscant is a cool planet. That’s about it. That was a lot to talk about. I didn’t even talk about everything! I left out Mace Windu for crying out loud! I’m going to give “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” a 3/10.

This was a hard film to grade. The fan in me wants to give it a 1 because of how much it sullies the original trilogy. The part of my brain that likes looking at things on a screen wants the grade to be a little higher. Perhaps at least a 5 or 6. However there are one or two good things about the film that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, again, these positives are kept to a minimum. But hey, at least Yoda had the right idea all along.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

This was not my first time watching “The Phantom Menace,” but having seen it and remembering my horror stories, because I did watch it more than once in some recent years for varying reasons, I went in fearing the results. Then I got angry because of Jar Jar, which made me hate myself for putting in this movie and sitting through it. And of course, I suffered through the rest of it because I had to put out this review.

Thanks, Master Yoda! You really are wise!

One last thing. I think I did a pretty good job with my review for “The Phantom Menace,” but I’m gonna be real. There is someone out there in the land of YouTube that has arguably created a near perfect “Episode I” review. It is one of the most hilarious video reviews I have ever seen. If you want something fun to watch, take a gander RedLetterMedia’s review of “The Phantom Menace.” Part 1 of the video is posted below! Check it out!

Thanks for reading this review! That is one day of “Star Wars” down and we have six to go. TOMORROW, I will be sharing my review for “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” The second “Star Wars” prequel and it is one that a few of my friends probably consider to actually be worse than “The Phantom Menace.” I won’t give my thoughts just yet. You’ll have to find out tomorrow on Scene Before! If you want to find out, make sure you are following Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account. Also be sure to check out the Facebook page and may the force be with you! I want to know, did you see “The Phantom Menace?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite “Star Wars” world, planet, or moon? For me, I’d have to pick Coruscant. I’m an urban guy so that pick is a goto for me. Although I do like the idea of Starkiller Base if that counts as a planet. Let me know your picks down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

ROGUE ONE: https://flicknerd.com/2016/12/16/rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-a-movie-built-on-hope/

THE LAST JEDI: https://flicknerd.com/2017/12/15/star-wars-episode-viii-the-last-jedi-2017-another-year-another-star-wars-movie/

SOLO: https://flicknerd.com/2018/05/25/solo-a-star-wars-story-2018-somehow-this-star-wars-movie-exists/

THE RISE OF SKYWALKER: https://flicknerd.com/2019/12/20/star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-2019-the-final-word-in-the-story/

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